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This article is taken from PN Review 158, Volume 30 Number 6, July - August 2004.

Mind the Gap: the Poem and the Radio Alison Brackenbury

Any gap in memory, personal or collective, is most conveniently filled by the glow of a Golden Age. This is a time whose triumphs you did not experience yourself (are you even sure that your parents did?) but of whose landmarks, like peaks in the mist, you are mysteriously aware.

Regions of the post-war radio landscape, luminous with poets, are, I suspect, rather remote to those of us born later. I know that Louis MacNeice worked for the BBC from 1941, and that his most famous radio production remains his own play, The Dark Tower. I know also of Henry Reed's series of satirical plays from the 1950s. But MacNeice and Reed are both alive to me as writers, not of plays, but of poems. The poet of this time whose work remains alive on our air, in many recordings and broadcasts, is Dylan Thomas with Under Milk Wood.

The most recent visit of this lively ghost was the Radio 4 broadcast of a newly-edited production, in which Richard Burton's first narration washed, without tidemark, around the voices of a new cast. I had first heard Milk Wood bubbling out of a school tape recorder. Works we love in adolescence often fail us later. Not Under Milk Wood. It defeats time, as the tricks of word, voice - and radio - can. How long is it? An hour? Two hours? I cannot tell you. I stayed entranced.

Under Milk Wood had an inauspicious ...


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